By Charissa Luci-Atienza
Cebu Rep. Raul del Mar is pushing for the final passage of a bill which would make libel case hearings more accessible to community print and broadcast journalists.
He laments that libel, whether filed as a criminal or civil action, is used as a convenient legal tool to harass journalists, especially the community newspaper and broadcast practitioners.
Del Mar, principal author of House Bill 685 said under the present rules, the complainant or offended party, if he is a public officer, can file the complaint in Manila if his office is in Manila or in the office outside Manila if his office is located there.
HB 685 was approved by the House committee on public information, chaired by Bagong Henerasyon partylist Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy last month. The bill seeks to provide a specific venue of action in libel cases against a community journalist, community publication or community broadcast station,
“A newspaper or broadcast station in Aparri or Jolo, or Davao can be made to answer a complaint filed in Metro Manila where the complaint resides although the subject, the issue or the incident published – in law the cause of action – did not arise in Metro Manila,” Del Mar said.
The current legal rules on venue compel community journalists and local broadcasters to answer complaints or charges filed, rightly or wrongly, in remote or distant places, deliberately filed far away from their place of business or work.
“In this context, the element of oppression is there. The toll of inconvenience, financial or otherwise, is often more onerous and burdensome than the penalty or fine prescribed by the law. This may even lead to a miscarriage of justice in cases where the accused or defendant fails to appear because of the distance and travel constraints,” Del Mar said.
“The criminal or civil action may eventually be thrown out by the court, but the damage has been done; it already punished the community journalist and his publication by the excessive cost of litigation and inconvenience outside the principal office of publication or business of the said journalist or publication,” he said.
According to the veteran lawmaker, HB 685 seeks to provide the relief sought, to correct the unfairness by closing the loophole that is often exploited or taken advantage of by offended parties.
“The community journalist and his organization, mostly financially handicapped and already afflicted with all sorts or pressures and threats, need immediate relief from the present rule venue of libel cases, whether criminal or civil, which create an opportunity for oppression,” Del Mar said.
HB 685 provides the criminal or civil action in cases of libel against a community journalist, publication or broadcast station shall be filed in the Regional Trial Court of the province or city where the principal office or place of business of the said community journalist, publication or broadcast station is located, provided the civil action shall be filed in the same court where the criminal action is filed.
Under the bill, “community journalist, publication or broadcast station” refers a journalist or news medium that operates within a limited area of circulation or broadcast in a city, province or region, as defined under existing laws.